Dong Quai, or Angelica sinensis, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. As medicine, it is used for female complaints such as painful or irregular periods, but also to boost fertility and ease the symptoms of menopause. As a tonic, it is used to nourish and warm the blood, promoting circulation and restoring harmony to the vital organs such as the heart, kidney, liver and spleen. As powerful as the beneficial effects of Dong Quai can be, negative side effects have also been reported. Due to the serious lack of research or evidence, however, scientists and health care professionals cannot be sure what causes the effects and why. They do recommend certain safety precautions if you are taking the herb.
Sensitivity to Sunlight
Sensitivity to sunlight, or photosensitivity, is a side effect of Dong Quai due to certain chemical compounds in the plant. Scientists believe these compounds might be activated by sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn. This side effect manifests at higher doses of the herb and is considered rare, but sunlight is best avoided while taking it, as well as ultraviolet radiation sources like tanning booths or tanning beds. Extreme sensitivity resulting in skin rash or sunburn is known as phototoxicity, an adverse reaction to the compounds in Dong Quai.
Diarrhea and Abdominal Bloating
Dong Quai has what has been described as a mild laxative effect, but some people have experienced a stronger side effect, which includes abdominal bloating, cramps and gas. Gastrointestinal symptoms are known to increase with the length of use and some people have reported nausea, upset stomach and vomiting. The laxative effect of Dong Quai is so well known that it is often used to treat constipation.
Changes in Menstruation
Dong Quai can disrupt a woman's natural menstruation cycle. It acts as a blood thinner and as such is not recommended for women who are on their period. Dong Quai works by increasing circulation to the uterus, and by affecting estrogen, so it has been known to bring on late periods, or bring on a regularly scheduled period early.
Severe Allergic Reaction
Severe allergic reactions are rare, but they are very serious and can include tightness in the chest, closing of the throat, difficulty breathing, a rash or hives and swelling of the face, mouth and lips. People have also reported severe asthma attacks. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is advised that you seek medical attention immediately. Dong Quai is especially not recommended for children because of the chance for an allergic reaction.
Research concerning the properties of Dong Quai is heavily lacking, and so the toxicity remains unknown, but a type of oil found in Dong Quai has been identified as a potentially dangerous substance. This volatile oil is called safrole, an oil once widely used in the United States in soaps, perfumes, foods and beverages. However, after scientists found it to be carcinogenic in rats, the FDA and the IFA (International Fragrance Association) banned it.
Dong Quai should not be used if you have specific health problems, including seasonal allergies, the flu, a cold or diarrhea. If your physician prescribes you this herb, take the following precautions to reduce your sun exposure: apply sunscreen, avoid prolonged amounts of time in direct sunlight and wear a hat and adequate clothing. Dong Quai should specifically be avoided during pregnancy, as it has abortive qualities. Certain medications and medical conditions will interact with Dong Quai, such as blood thinners and anti-inflammatory drugs. If you have any questions or concerns, consult your physician.